Satellite photos might be ubiquitous thanks to apps like Google Earth, but it’s still a little breathtaking to see the world from the perspective of an aerial photographer looking straight down. In these shots of a port in Northern Germany, photographer Bernhard Lang adds to the aerial series he’s been working on over the last three years.
Lang’s obsession with aerial photography began after realizing that there actually wasn’t that much of it out there—at least, not much that took the vertical perspective he liked. "I want to show something that looks two-dimensional," he says. He was drawn to the occasional top-down photos he came across in magazines, and also thought about photography every time he boarded a plane to fly somewhere.
"Looking down out of the window, I was fascinated by seeing the world—the graphic structures—from above," he says.
Eventually, Lang found himself strapped outside of an ultralight plane, hanging thousands of feet above the ground. "The first time it was a bit scary," he says. "But at the moment I was so concentrated on looking through the camera I wasn’t scared anymore." He might not have been thinking about falling, but he was definitely cold; one of his first shoots took place over ski-slopes in the German Alps, in below-zero air that could cause frostbite in minutes.
One of the next locations was a beach, where Lang captured people lying on the sand in photos that look a little like stills from the classic Eames film Powers of Ten, as the camera zooms away from the picnic scene in the park. Like the filmmakers, Lang hopes that showing the world from a different scale might change how people see the everyday world.
"The message might be to show the impact of human beings on the natural environment," he says. "On the other side, the birds-eye view reveals that we are just small creatures, not as important as we think we are."
Looking at the unending rows of cars and containers at Bremerhaven, the port photographed here, it's hard to imagine that it's five times smaller than the Port of Shanghai. Last year, over 6 million containers passed through the German harbor.
Lang plans to keep looking for more locations for the aerial series, and might eventually take a flight without a camera just to enjoy the view.
"I get sometimes overwhelmed by what things look like if you see it directly above, especially at this container port," he says. "It would have been fun just to fly over it without photographing it."